November 22, 2013

Showing Cleavage Does Not Equal Growing Up.

This is for all the girls who are quickly growing into women.

I was inspired to finally address this topic after seeing the latest photos of young actress Abigail Breslin.

Breslin isn’t even technically a legal adult, yet at 17 she’s already posing for a series of racy, very “grown-up” shots for celebrity photographer Tyler Shields.

The photos are making headlines all over the internet with accompanying phrases such as “Abigail Breslin wants to make sure everyone knows she’s not the same little girl fromSigns. And she’s doing a pretty darn good job.” 

Shields describes the photo series in an interview with E! News:

“The Dirty Side of Glamour author’s series of photographs of the young star revealed a much more provocative side than what the public is used to seeing, with photos of Breslin posing in a bubble bath with heavy eyeliner on and sucking on a lollipop while covering her bare breasts with a sheet.

“I wanted to do something iconic with her, something simple but timeless,” Shields tells E! News. “She’s the perfect subject for something like this. Incredibly talented, beautiful actress but no one has ever seen her like this. There’s fun in that—showing someone to the world for the first time.”

He continues, “Ever since we did Final Girl last year, she has grown up so much while making the movie, I put her through a lot so it was easy to do this. We have a great working relationship and I’m happy to see her all grown up.”

Shields adds that Breslin was “great” on set, telling us “she was game. She knew exactly the goal and we shot it like a movie. This is the scene and she executed.”

As for what Abigail thought of the final product: “She loves them. I think anyone would love to have these photos taken of them. Forty years from now, she will be even happier!”

And although these photos (and a lot of Shields’ work) contain an OMG-factor, he’s not in the business to shock people. “I have given up on trying to figure out what people will think,” he tells E! News. “I just keep busy making art.””

While I’m one of the first people to admit that nudity doesn’t have to equal anything more than gorgeous art, I can’t help but feel disgusted that young girls in the public eye are continually and consistently displayed this way the second that they feel they’re out of puberty.

Why is this?

Well, for me, the horrifying part is that these young ladies are still very susceptible to outside influences (such as those of managers, photographers and agents, not to mention poorly intentioned parental figures as well).

At 17, is Breslin completely aware of how these photographs will affect her long-term career and image? Surely most people won’t hold this shoot negatively against her years and years from now, but I’m not convinced that she fully understands the message and intent that these display, not to mention how unnecessary they are.

I think of myself at 17.

I thought I was “grown up,” but in retrospect my attempts to appear grown actually did more to show off my lingering immaturity. Take Miley Cyrus.

Of course she wants to shake her Disney roots and grow up big and strong into an epic, Madonna-like tree, but is twerking and being raunchy with foam fingers really an ideal way to demonstrate how womanly and sophisticated you are?

These images will be around on the internet—and etched into people’s minds—for much longer than I think youthful hearts are able to comprehend.

One of the most attractive qualities of youth is their ability to stay present in a way that we adults have often forgotten how to manage. On the other hand, even young “old souls” (like I considered myself once-upon-a-time) are still arguably unable to process the long-term effects of their actions. (I mean, a teenager’s brain is still developing for Pete’s sake.)

And why does baring breasts have to equal being grown up?

There are so many alternate aspects of womanhood that are obvious and strikingly amazing and beautiful.

Confidence, for example, seems to be something that develops as we age—I’m not talking about the more ego-inspired false confidence of youth (that’s often inspired more from insecurity than anything else)—and does showing off your cleavage mean that you’re confident? Nope, they have nothing to do with each other.

Women have breasts, plain and simple, and I for one am not into the American prude mentality of seeing them as dirty or bad. On the other hand, our relationship with breasts and pornography is what breeds this “dirty” connection—and “coming out” photos like Breslin’s are part of the reason why.

As a breast-feeding mother I wasn’t shy about unbuttoning my top in public. Yes, I covered myself but, no, I didn’t stay home because my daughter needed to nurse.

When my child was still tiny, my friend came from Sweden to visit with her little family, which also included a new baby, and she shared her surprise that Americans are so skittish about breastfeeding in public. She said her own European experiences were completely different. It’s natural, isn’t it? Why is it such an issue?

This repeated linking of breasts and sex has taken a woman’s body away from her and given the rights of it over to people who want her to be sexually available for their own interests—and tell me, how is giving away your power either impressive or at all connected to refinement?

In short, are Breslin and Cyrus striking nude poses because they love their bodies and want to show the world this new “womanly” self-confidence? Possibly. Are they taking and sharing photos because they want our male-dominated culture to “take them seriously” as sexually available women? Without a doubt.

Still, I remember recently reading a letter to the editor in Vogue that upset me.

Ski racer Lindsey Vonn posed for the magazine in a gorgeous photo spread that included a seductive shot of her in a ski position. The reader wrote in to say that she was offended that Vonn felt the need to get nearly-naked in order to showcase her beauty. This response actually irked me because I saw this same image and thought it was artistic and interesting, albeit sexy.

So does a woman have to cover herself up, for fear of being taken only from the perspective of voyeur and complementary object? Is this why these young girls pose like this, over and over again?

Because there’s another thing that youth is: rebellious—and thank God.

Our world would be perpetually boring and stuck in a rut if we didn’t have new minds and energy to create fresh thoughts and ideas. At the same time, I associate my own past, more forthright displays of youthful rebellion as immature, if only because it took me growing up to learn that going against the crowd just for the sake of it and acting out merely to prove a point are not truly synonymous with adulthood.

And I didn’t include images of Breslin in this article for a reason. If you want to see them, Google her name because, unfortunately, that’s the first thing that will pop up.

I might not be personally deeply offended by her risque shots, but I also don’t want to promote them because I sincerely hope that one day down the road she’ll realize that cleavage does not a grown woman make.

Does that mean she can’t rock a figure-hugging dress? No. Does that mean that if she does she should automatically be considered for the next starring movie role? No to that too.

What are your thoughts on femininity, nudity, art and image-selling? S

hare them in the comments section below.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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